China appears to be playing catch-up with its nuclear arsenal, and that could mean a more dangerous future

ICBM silo construction in China
ICBM silo construction

  • Recent satellite photos appear to show that China is building fields of missile silos in its western region.
  • The new silos seem to indicate that China is finally trying to catch up the US and Russia in terms of nuclear weapons.
  • That may mean a new tripolar nuclear order is in the offing and that nuclear instability may increase.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Satellite photos recently obtained by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, the Federation of American Scientists, and others appear to show that China is building vast fields of new missile silos in its sparsely populated western region.

That has prompted fears that Beijing may be well on its way to possessing a much larger nuclear arsenal than anyone had expected and aspiring to rival the United States and Russia, the two countries that have traditionally dominated the global nuclear order.

If this comes to pass, tripolarity will for the first time become the primary feature of that order, with concerning implications for nuclear stability.

What’s more, in the current security environment characterized by heightened US competition with both Beijing and Moscow, tripolarity would be especially bad news for Washington.

ICBM silo construction in China
ICBM silo construction

China first became a nuclear-armed state in the late 1960s, after it successfully tested its first nuclear device in 1964. Against all expectations, however, Beijing stuck to a quite limited nuclear posture thereafter, as Chinese leaders believed that nuclear weapons had limited utility.

Their thinking rested on the belief that these weapons served only to prevent coercion and nuclear attack. So Beijing adhered to an approach that called for possessing the “minimum means of reprisal,” or just enough weapons to provide some retaliatory capacity after suffering a nuclear attack.

Unlike the two Cold War-era nuclear superpowers, then, Beijing did not integrate nuclear strategy with conventional military strategy or pursue any form of nuclear warfighting. It developed a nuclear force based on missiles rather than gravity bombs, because missiles are more appropriate for counterstrike purposes; did not mate nuclear warheads to missiles in peacetime; pledged not to conduct a nuclear strike before suffering a nuclear attack; and promised not to attack non-nuclear-armed countries.

The Chinese leadership also wanted to maintain full control over the weapons, an objective easier met by maintaining a small nuclear arsenal and refusing to engage in arms races with the United States and the Soviet Union.

Unlike some other nuclear-armed states, Beijing never delegated authority over nuclear strikes to senior military officers. It also gave the Second Artillery Force – the unit of the People’s Liberation Army, now renamed the Rocket Force, that was created in 1966 to control Chinese nuclear weapons – the sole mission of conducting a nuclear counterstrike.

Starting in the early 2000s, as tensions increased in US-China relations and as the Chinese economy grew rapidly, Beijing began to modernize and grow its nuclear arsenal – albeit at a slow pace. During this period, its stockpile of weapons grew modestly in size while Beijing prioritized qualitative improvement, seemingly to ensure that it kept pace with technological developments in the US and could still mount a retaliatory attack against its main rival.

Accordingly, China improved the mobility of its forces to make it difficult for the US to locate and destroy them. It also diversified its platforms, notably by investing in a sea-based deterrent, because submarines are less predictable launch locations; extended the range of its missiles to target the US homeland; and invested in multiple independent reentry vehicles to increase its chances of penetrating US missile defenses.

Military vehicles carry China's DF-41 nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles in a military parade at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on October 1, 2019, to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China
China’s DF-41 nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles during a military parade in Beijing, October 1, 2019.

Yet after Xi Jinping’s ascension to power in 2012, and in the context of mounting tensions with Washington, Beijing ramped up its modernization efforts and began to embrace new missions for its arsenal, including tactical nuclear strikes and nuclear warfighting.

It developed and deployed intermediate-range systems like the DF-26, which is a dual system and has what military analysts call “hot swapping” capability, meaning it can rapidly shift between launching nuclear and conventional warheads, in addition to being accurate and having a sufficiently long range to reach Guam, a US territory and key military outpost.

Beijing, in other words, seemingly became interested in developing a first-strike capability against US nuclear and conventional forces, as opposed to just possessing retaliatory second-strike options.

In recent years, reports also surfaced that China was modernizing its nuclear command-and-control systems and conducting exercises to improve force readiness, including by mating warheads to missiles and possibly moving to a posture allowing Beijing to launch a retaliatory strike upon detection of an incoming enemy attack on its territory, known as “launch-on-warning.”

Finally, China made no secret of its investments in cyber and space capabilities, and of its adoption of a deterrence posture that relies increasingly on assets from different domains, not just nuclear. Beijing has worked hard to integrate these capabilities, notably through the establishment of a new Strategic Support Force in 2015.

The recent discovery of the new missile silo fields suggests that, in addition to perfecting its technology, China may now also be in the process of massively increasing the size of its arsenal.

In hindsight, Xi had suggested that a build-up was coming. Since taking power, he has systematically emphasized the importance of the Rocket Force and, in 2017, as US-China relations became more overtly competitive, he stated that China would have “the dominant position” in the world by 2049. It was not surprising, then, to hear him call for the military to “accelerate the construction of advanced strategic deterrent” capabilities in March, just a few months before the new missile silos were discovered.

Behind this decision seems to be the belief that China can only truly dominate its rivals if it comes close to, reaches parity with, or even surpasses American and Russian nuclear stockpiles.

A Type 094B Jin-class ballistic missile submarine
A Type 094B Jin-class ballistic missile submarine

For years, US government officials and experts speculated whether (or when) China would abandon minimum deterrence and build up its nuclear arsenal. In recent years, several analysts have explained that China already de facto transitioned from minimum deterrence to limited deterrence due to the qualitative improvement of its arsenal and the new missions Beijing seemed to have embraced.

While some observers have advanced alternative explanations, the silo news now appears to indicate that China may finally be in catch-up mode with the US and Russia, and, therefore, that a new nuclear order characterized by tripolarity could be in the offing.

Such a tripolar order would have many important implications. At the macro level, nuclear instability would likely increase. Scholars have long suggested that triangular interactions between states are generally unstable and prone to conflict.

The late international relations professor Martin Wight, for instance, explained that “triangles tend to be mobile figures of shifting alliances and negotiations,” adding that “like duels, [they] are relationships of conflict, and are resolved by war.” Other research has reached similar conclusions.

Such a tripolar nuclear order would be particularly problematic for the US because it would likely get the short end of the stick. Washington is increasingly competing with both Moscow and Beijing, yet the latter two are expanding and deepening their strategic cooperation to counter the United States.

Chinese DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missiles
Chinese DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missiles on parade in Beijing.

To be sure, Russia and China are not nuclear allies, and that is unlikely to change in the near term, whereas the United States has nuclear alliances with France, the United Kingdom and NATO.

Still, a major nuclear build-up by China would almost certainly put the United States in a less advantageous position than today.

It is tempting, in these circumstances, to consider arms control as the solution. Following the extension of the US-Russia New START agreement earlier this year, and in the context of ongoing strategic stability talks between American and Russian diplomats, it is possible to conceptualize various arms control arrangements that would involve China, be they trilateral or multilateral.

An alternative could be to jump-start a separate US-China negotiating track. The challenge, however, will be to get Chinese buy-in. Beijing has rejected any form of engagement on nuclear issues, including on crisis management, and so far, neither inducement nor pressure has worked to change its mind. So, unless there is a breakthrough, expect a bumpy, perhaps even dangerous nuclear future.

David Santoro is president and CEO of the Honolulu-based Pacific Forum. He is the editor of a new volume, “US-China Nuclear Relations: The Impact of Strategic Triangles (Lynne Rienner, May 2021). Follow him on Twitter @DavidSantoro1.

Miles Pomper is a senior fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Democrats take aim at the US’s new $264 billion ICBM amid search for cash to boost the military

icbm minuteman
An unarmed Minuteman III ICBM is launched during a test at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, August 2, 2017.

  • The Biden administration’s 2022 budget has sparked new debate about military funding.
  • The GBSD, a replacement for the US’s current ICBM’s, has attracted particular scrutiny.
  • Pausing the GBSD could save $37 billion “without any deterioration of our nuclear deterrence,” Rep. John Garamendi told Insider.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Amid debates over how much funding the US military needs to counter China and Russia, Democratic lawmakers have taken aim at a major new nuclear weapon, the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent, to pay for other priorities.

“It’s a matter of how we’re going to spend a very precious resource called money,” Rep. John Garamendi, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee’s readiness subcommittee, told Insider in an interview Thursday.

The GBSD, work on which began during the Obama administration, will replace the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile, which has been in service since the 1970s.

Cost estimates for the GBSD are close to $100 billion for acquisition and $264 billion over its lifetime, which is set to run to the mid-2070s. Northrop Grumman received a $13.3 billion contract for the weapon in September.

The GBSD is set for its first flight in 2023 and to hit initial operational capability in 2029, with all 400 of the new missiles deployed by 2036.

F.E. Warren Air Force Base ICBM missile silo Wyoming
A US airman gives a tour of ICBM training facilities on F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming, July 22, 2012.

GBSD proponents say the Minuteman’s service life can’t be extended, but Garamendi has said Air Force officials “confirmed” it could and has argued for a GBSD pause until the mid-2030s.

“That is exactly what the Air Force is going to do with most of the Minuteman IIIs that are presently in the silos. They will be life-extended for the next 15 to 20 years as the GBSD is replacing the Minuteman III,” said Garamendi, who also sits on the subcommittee that oversees nuclear weapons.

With that pause, over the next 10 years “some $37 billion could be saved and used for other purposes without any deterioration of our nuclear deterrence,” Garamendi added, citing estimates from a 2017 Congressional Budget Office report.

That money could be spent on other priorities, such as more warships, new weapons like hypersonic missiles, as well as artificial-intelligence and cyber capabilities, Garamendi said.

Gen. Timothy Ray, head of Air Force Global Strike Command, and other officials have said developing the GBSD would save $38 billion compared to extending the Minuteman III through 2075.

Garamendi called that a “fallacious argument,” citing estimates that showed life-extensions were cheaper over shorter periods, such as the CBO’s 15-year estimate, which are “the time horizon in which all of us are living.”

“To draw a conclusion based upon the cost 55 years from now is a stretch,” Garamendi said.

‘The hawks want it all’

icbm missile silo
A missile silo at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, July 17, 2007.

Progressive activists and lawmakers have also called to pause or halt the GBSD.

Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Ro Khanna introduced a bill in March to redirect GBSD funding to COVID-19 vaccine research. (A similar measure from Khanna was voted down by the House Armed Services Committee in 2020.)

Former defense officials, including former Defense Secretary William Perry, have argued ICBMs are unnecessary for deterrence and also raise the risks of a nuclear war.

Current military leaders and Democratic and Republican lawmakers say it’s necessary to maintain all three legs of the nuclear triad: ICBMs, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and air-launched weapons.

Asked by Garamendi at a hearing this month about pausing the GBSD to save $37 billion, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he “would not recommend taking that money away and putting it elsewhere.”

“The recapitalization of the entire triad, to include the GBSD, is critical to our nation’s security,” Milley said, adding that with a delay of 12 to 15 years, “you’ll have a gap in the land-based leg.”

AP710728069
A Minuteman III missile launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base on July 28, 1971.

At a press conference Thursday, Republican Sen. Jodi Ernst said the US “cannot trade” a GBSD pause for additional funds.

“For too long and many administrations, we were not as focused as we should have been on those modernization efforts, and it has set us much further behind than we should be,” Ernst said. “If we delay for a dozen years, it would be extremely hard to catch back up. If we look at Russia, China, Iran’s activities and what they want to do with enrichment, we can’t afford that.”

Garamendi countered that a Minuteman extension was already part the GBSD plan, that the older missile will remain a deterrent, and that work done on the GBSD “would be available to carry forward.”

“The delivery systems are not standing still. They’re rapidly changing, and it may very well be that 10 years from now, 15 years from now, the ICBM in silo is not the deterrent that we would count on” Garamendi said.

The Biden administration’s 2022 Defense Department budget invests $2.6 billion in the GBSD, up from $1.5 billion in the Trump administration’s 2021 budget.

Progressives have criticized Biden’s $715 billion request for the Pentagon in 2022, a slight increase over 2021, as too big. (Moderate Democrats called it “strong and sensible.”) Republicans have criticized it for not meeting the 3% to 5% annual increase that military leaders and others have recommended.

“They are increasing spending everywhere on everything, with one exception,” Sen. Dan Sullivan said of Biden’s overall budget at the press conference Thursday. “That’s the big message we’re sending. The prioritization of our military with this budget is last.”

Minuteman III ICBM warhead nose cone
Airmen mount a refurbished nuclear warhead on a Minuteman III in a silo in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, April 15, 1997.

“There’s no doubt that the hawks want it all,” Garamendi said, adding that Biden’s budget “chose to keep the GDSB in place, but they also made very, very hard choices, which are going to be very difficult for the [House Armed Services] committee to accept.”

While work on the GBSD has begun, its future may depend on the Biden administration’s ongoing nuclear posture review.

Garamendi noted that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin declined to commit to the GBSD when asked about it at the hearing with Milley, saying that the “right balance” of forces would be informed by the ongoing nuclear posture review.

“He said that twice,” Garamendi said. “I’m sure he was honest, and I want to believe that he was honest that, in fact, the issue of the GBSD is under consideration – that is, a pause on the GBSD – so we’ll see.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

Kim Jong Un told North Korea’s government to ‘get fully prepared for confrontation’ with the US

kim jong un
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

  • Kim Jong Un said the US needs to get ready for potential “confrontation” with his country.
  • He told his government to prepare for dialogue and confrontation, but “especially” confrontation.
  • G7 leaders recently demanded North Korea abandon its nuclear program.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

North Korea’s leader told his government to prepare for confrontation with the United States.

Kim Jong Un addressed his government on Thursday, and the Korean Central News Agency reported he “stressed the need to get prepared for both dialogue and confrontation, especially to get fully prepared for confrontation,” according to The Associated Press.

He said this was needed “in order to protect the dignity of our state and its interests for independent development and to reliably guarantee the peaceful environment and the security of our state.”

G7 leaders demanded the “verifiable and irreversible” disbandment of North Korea’s nuclear program when they met in the UK earlier this month.

A confidential UN report seen by Reuters in February said North Korea maintained and developed its nuclear and ballistic missile programs through 2020, even in the face of international sanctions.

Reports in May said US President Joe Biden’s administration had been trying to contact North Korea “to reduce the risks of escalation,” but didn’t get a response.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Biden is signing onto Trump’s trillion-dollar plans for new nuclear weapons

Biden
President Joe Biden in an electric Ford F-150 lightning at the Ford Dearborn Development Center in Michigan, May 18, 2021.

  • President Joe Biden’s first defense budget, totalling $752.9 billion, continues a Trump effort to “modernize” US nuclear forces.
  • That modernization could cost upward of $1.5 trillion over 15 years, and Biden’s plan will only add to simmering debate about whether the US needs those nukes.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

For those anticipating a significant shift in national priorities in the wake of the huge increase in defense expenditures during the last administration – to the tune of some $100 billion over four years – President Joe Biden’s fiscal year 2022 national defense budget is a major disappointment.

On Friday, the Biden administration submitted its fiscal year 2022 budget request – with a whopping $752.9 billion set aside for national defense, $715 billion of which is designated for the Pentagon. The proposed funding actually increases defense expenditures by some $11 billion from the Trump years.

Congressman Mark Pocan and Congresswoman Barbara Lee called the Biden defense budget “a failure that doesn’t reflect this country’s actual needs.” The joint Pocan-Lee statement, released last Friday, slammed Biden’s proposal, pointing out that “the defense spending increase” by itself is “1.5 times larger than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s entire $8.7 billion budget.”

Defense hawks, on the other hand, were as outspoken in their criticism, arguing that the Biden defense budget does not account for inflation, which means that, to keep pace, Pentagon spending should be ramped up to the tune of 3% to 5% annually.

“President Biden’s defense budget request is wholly inadequate – it’s nowhere near enough to give our service members the resources, equipment and training they need,” Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Jim Inhofe (R-Okla), and his House counterpart, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala), said in a statement. “It’s disingenuous to call this request an increase because it doesn’t even keep up with inflation – it’s a cut.”

Air Force Vandenberg Minuteman ICBM test
An unarmed Minuteman III ICBM launches during a test at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, February 5, 2020.

The opposing positions are likely to be a source of contention in the weeks ahead, as Congress hammers out the details of who gets what.

Most disappointing for progressives is the Biden administration’s apparent endorsement of the Trump administration’s decision to spend big in “modernizing” America’s nuclear forces – a decision that could cost the nation upwards of $1.5 trillion over the next 15 years and as much as $634 billion over the next 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Congressional progressives describe the amount as a wholly unnecessary and extravagant expenditure. As an example, the Biden budget reflects a White House decision to double the amount the nation will spend on developing and deploying the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent to a proposed $2.6 billion from $1.4 billion.

The monies do not include upgrades to launch facility locations and nuclear laboratories, which would cost tens of billions more. The GBSD is intended to replace the 50-year-old Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile – the ICBM.

While the $2.6 billion figure might seem modest compared to the bulk of defense expenditures, the GBSD serves as a template for the nuclear modernization program (accounting for $27.7 billion in the Biden budget), while committing the United States to maintaining the nuclear triad – the three-legged mix of missile-launched, submarine-launched and bomber-launched nuclear weapons.

In total, an upgrade of the Minuteman III could cost upwards of $264 billion over the period of its development and deployment. Then, too, in addition to the funding for the increasingly controversial GBSD, the Biden defense budget includes expenditures for a new Columbia-class submarine, further development and deployment of the B-21 bomber, and a long-range standoff weapon.

F.E. Warren Air Force Base ICBM missile silo Wyoming
An airman gives a tour of ICBM training facilities on F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming, July 22, 2012.

In the weeks preceding then ew budget’s release, Congressional progressives and their allies among anti-nuke NGOs had been gearing up for a fight over nuclear modernization, arguing that land-based nuclear missiles pose the most destabilizing part of the US arsenal – and that part of the triad that is most susceptible to an accidental launch.

These advocates argue that spending for the GBSD is unnecessary since the Minuteman III can be regularly upgraded over the next 10 years without adopting the budget-busting numbers proposed by the Trump administration.

That thinking is in line with a series of options detailed in an intriguing study by the Congressional Budget Office that would cut back the number of delivery systems and nuclear warheads over a period of 10 years – saving tens of billions of dollars – but without any erosion in nuclear deterrence.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is one of those likely to lead the charge against the nuclear modernization program, particularly given her focus on it during the Senate’s February confirmation hearings for Dr. Kathleen Hicks to be deputy secretary of defense.

“I know that you believe in a safe, and secure, and reliable nuclear deterrent, but we’re going to spend $44.5 billion on nuclear weapons this year, which is more than the entire budget for the State Department and foreign operations accounts,” Warren said to Hicks back in February. “Will you commit that your review will not simply be a rubber stamp of our current nuclear strategy, but that you really will examine and re-question the core assumptions that underpin it?”

Hicks assured Warren that she would. “Absolutely, senator,” she responded.

Now, in the wake of President Biden’s seeming endorsement of a large portion of the previous administration’s nuclear modernization program, that reassurance is very much in doubt, despite Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s public testimony last week before a Defense Appropriations Subcommittee hearing that the Biden team will be conducting its own review in the months ahead.

icbm missile silo
A missile silo at Vandenberg Air Force Base, July 17, 2007.

In all of this, there is a sense that both the White House and Pentagon are attempting to downplay just how similar the Biden administration’s defense budget is to the most recent defense budget proposed by Donald Trump.

The strategy included a last-minute postponement of the budget’s release until late in the day on the Friday before Memorial Day (“not an accident,” as one senior Pentagon civilian told Responsible Statecraft).

It was a purposeful soft-pedaling of the dollar amount for defense in comparison with other administration priorities and heavy-handed public statements that emphasized Biden’s commitment to “innovation,” “advanced capability enablers,” and “cutting-edge, state-of-the-art technologies” (like microelectronics, artificial intelligence, hypersonics, machine learning, 5G networking).

It was a purposeful, if transparent, sleight-of-hand, as if the Biden team wasn’t actually committed to buying weapons, but rather to a “visionary” and “forward-leaning posture,” as Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin described it.

Few, it seems, were fooled: “At a time when the greatest challenges to human lives and livelihoods stem from threats like pandemics and climate change, sustaining Pentagon spending at over three quarters of a trillion dollars a year is both bad budgeting and bad security policy,” the Center for International Policy’s William Hartung said.

Hartung’s criticism will be echoed in the weeks ahead, as the Biden defense budget becomes an increasing focus for a badly divided Congress.

While there’s much for both the left and the right to attack, the Biden administration’s seeming unwillingness to take on the nuclear weapons lobby will likely mark the most contentious issue for both sides. It will be round one of a Congressional donnybrook over whether the United States is protected by buying, building and fielding more nuclear weapons – or placed at increasing risk.

Read the original article on Business Insider

The US Army only ever fired one nuclear artillery shell from its ‘Atomic Annie’ cannon, and this is what it looked like

Image of the May 25, 1953 test-firing of an M65 atomic cannon.
Image of the May 25, 1953 test-firing of an M65 atomic cannon.

  • The US Army fired its atomic cannon for the first and last time 68 years ago.
  • The cannon, initially named “Able Annie,” was later renamed “Atomic Annie.”
  • During the May 25, 1953 test, the cannon fired a nuclear shell that unleashed a 15-kiloton blast.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The US Army successfully test-fired an atomic cannon exactly 68 years ago Tuesday. It was the first and only time the US military ever fired a nuclear weapon from a conventional cannon, according to the Army.

During the Cold War, the US military developed many different ways to unleash nuclear destruction on an enemy, including a towed artillery piece built in the early 1950s that could fire a nuclear round packed with as much explosive power as the atomic bomb that devastated Hiroshima less than a decade earlier.

The Army’s M65 280 mm Motorized Heavy Gun, the largest mobile artillery piece the US ever built, was based on Nazi Germany’s Krupp K5 heavy railway gun, a devastating indirect-fire weapon Allied service members fighting in Italy during World War II named “Anzio Annie.”

The M65 "Atomic Annie," a 280mm nuclear-capable cannon, sits on a concrete slab at Fort Lee
The M65 “Atomic Annie,” a 280mm nuclear-capable cannon, sits on a concrete slab at Fort Lee, where it currently resides.

Weighing roughly 85 tons, the M65 cannon required two transporter trucks to move. In 1953, the US military moved two of these cannons by rail from Fort Sill, Oklahoma to a test site in Nevada, where crews used one to fire a nuclear artillery round in the first and last test of the cannon’s capabilities.

On May 25, 1953, just a few months after an M65 cannon made a very public debut in the inaugural parade for President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Army crews used a cannon named “Able Annie,” one of only 20 M65 guns ever made, to fire a nuclear artillery shell.

The atomic cannon test, codenamed Grable, was the tenth in the Operation Upshot-Knothole nuclear weapons test series but the only one involving nuclear artillery. The cannon, which cost $800,000, performed as expected.

About 19 seconds after the shell was fired at 8:31 am, it exploded just under 8 miles away at a low-burst height of about 520 feet.

“The shell that could wipe out an enemy division exploded on target with a roaring violence equal to 15,000 tons of TNT,” a historical marker at Fort Sill reads.

With that shot, “Able Annie” became “Atomic Annie.” Though the name applies to one gun, it has been used to refer to M65 cannons in general.

The other M65 cannon that was present for the testing in Nevada but never fired was a backup cannon named “Sad Sack,” a weapon that has had a rather uneventful history compared to Atomic Annie.

After the testing wrapped up, Sad Sack was supposed to be sent to an operational unit for overseas deployment while Atomic Annie was to return to Fort Sill, but during the transport process, the two cannons were accidentally switched.

This error was not discovered for 10 years. Soldiers preparing the big cannon for an event marking the tenth anniversary of the Grable test at Fort Sill realized that the serial numbers did not match that of Atomic Annie, the whereabouts of which were unknown to most at the time.

"Atomic Annie" at Fort Lee
“Atomic Annie” at Fort Lee

When the Army tried to find “Atomic Annie,” which was briefly renamed “AWOL Annie” during the search, it was a bit of challenge because the atomic artillery pieces had been deployed across Europe and Asia, and their specific locations were classified to the point that only a limited number of people actually knew exactly where they were.

The legendary atomic cannon was eventually found in Germany and retrieved. It returned to Fort Sill in 1964, and Sad Sack was given to the Smithsonian, according to the Army.

Due to the rapid pace of nuclear-weapons development during the Cold War, the M65 cannons like “Atomic Annie” were obsolete within a decade of their initial fielding. The M65, which was fielded to deliver a devastating nuclear strike behind enemy lines, was withdrawn from service in 1963, just 10 years after the first and only shot.

In 2017, the Atomic Annie cannon was moved to Fort Lee in Virginia, where it joined another “Annie,” one of the captured German K5 railway guns. The massive M65 cannon is part of an educational and historical display at the installation’s new Ordnance Training Support Facility.

Read the original article on Business Insider

US Air Force aborts the planned test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile for unexplained reasons

icbm minuteman
An unarmed Minuteman III ICBM during a test at Vandenberg Air Force Base, August 2, 2017.

  • The US Air Force had to abort a planned test launch of one of its Minuteman III ICBMs.
  • The service said a “ground abort” was experienced prior to launch but didn’t go into specifics.
  • The abort comes amid a debate about the nuclear modernization and the future of the ICBM force.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The US Air Force aborted the planned test launch of a Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile, Air Force Global Strike Command said in a statement Wednesday.

The launch was scheduled for sometime between 12:15 a.m. and 6:15 a.m. Pacific Time on Wednesday morning at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, but it “experienced a ground abort prior to launch,” the Air Force said.

The service did not go into detail on the specifics, only noting in its brief statement that “the cause of the ground abort is currently under investigation” and that Global Strike Command is “assessing the potential to reschedule the launch.”

The US military’s roughly 400 silo-based LGM-30G Minuteman III ICBMs are the land-based leg of the US nuclear triad, which also includes nuclear-capable bombers and nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines.

The Air Force conducts regular test launches to ensure that weapons, respective launch systems, and related personnel remain reliable should the US find itself in a nuclear crisis.

Problems during the testing are rare, but they do happen. In 2018, for example, the US military was forced to terminate an unarmed ICBM in flight after an anomaly created an “unsafe flight condition.”

The latest issue, whatever it may be, comes amid a debate over efforts to modernize America’s ICBM force, an expensive endeavor that has received some pushback from progressive politicians and arms control advocates.

The US military, in partnership with major defense contractor Northrop Grumman, aims to replace the existing intercontinental ballistic missiles with new ICBMs under the Ground-Based Strategic Defense (GBSD) program, which could have a total cost of several hundred billion dollars.

Minuteman ICBMs have been in service since the early 1960s, and US military leaders argue that without modernization, the US runs the risk of its missiles eventually not working at all.

Adm. Charles Richard, who currently leads US Strategic Command, told lawmakers in April that he “cannot deter with the leftovers of the Cold War forever,” arguing that the ICBM force is past the point of upgrade and needs to be replaced.

Given the lack of clarity surrounding the unexpected abort of Wednesday’s test launch, it is unclear what impact, if any, this could have on the ongoing debate surrounding nuclear modernization efforts and the future of the ICBM force.

Read the original article on Business Insider

7 times the military lost nukes – and 4 times it never found them

US nuclear weapons
An ICBM launch-control facility outside Minot, North Dakota.

The military makes a big deal out of when a rifle goes missing, not to mention when a nuke disappears.

In spite of the fact the program is designed to be “zero defect,” here are seven examples of doomsday devices wandering off (including a few where they never came back):

1. 1956: B-47 disappears with two nuclear capsules

B 47
A B-47.

The first story on the list is also one of the most mysterious since no signs of the wreckage, weapons, or crew have ever been found.

A B-47 Stratojet with two nuclear weapons took off from MacDill Air Force Base, Florida on March 10, 1956 headed to Morocco. It was scheduled for two midair refuelings but failed to appear for the second. An international search team found nothing. The US military eventually called off the search.

2. 1958: Damaged bomber jettisons nuke near Tybee Island, Georgia

On February 5, 1958 B-47 bombers left Florida with nuclear weapons on a training mission simulating the bombing of a Russian city and the evasion of interceptors afterwards. Over the coast of Georgia a bomber and interceptor collided.

The interceptor pilot ejected, and the bomber crew attempted to land with the bomb but failed. They jettisoned the bomb over the ocean before landing safely.

Since the plutonium pits were changed for lead pits used during training, the missing bomb has only a subcritical mass of uranium-235 and cannot cause a nuclear detonation.

3. 1961: Two nuclear bombs nearly turn North Carolina into a bay

Air Force B-52 bomber
A US Air Force B-52 bomber in 1957.

On January 24, 1961, a B-52 carrying two Mark 39 bombs, each 253 times as strong as the Little Boy bomb that dropped on Hiroshima, broke apart in a storm and dropped both of its bombs.

One survivor of the crash, the pilot, was able to alert the Air Force to the incident. The first bomb was found hanging by a parachute from a tree, standing with the nose of the weapon against the ground. It had gone through six of the seven necessary steps to detonate. Luckily, it’s safe/arm switch, known for failing, had stayed in the proper position and the bomb landed safely.

“You might now have a very large Bay of North Carolina if that thing had gone off,” Jack Revelle, who was in charge of locating and removing the weapons, said. The other bomb’s switch did move to the “Arm” position but, for reasons no one knows, it still failed to detonate, saving tens of thousands of lives.

4. 1965: Loss of Navy plane, pilot, and B43 nuclear bomb

A Navy A-4 Skyhawk was being moved aboard the USS Ticonderoga during a military exercise December 5, 1965 when it rolled off its elevator with a pilot and a B43 nuclear weapon loaded. The plane sank quickly into waters 16,000 feet deep.

The status of the weapon is still unknown. The pressures at that depth may be enough to detonate the weapon and the waters were so deep that it would’ve been hard to detect. If the weapon is still intact, it would be nearly impossible to find as very few vessels can make it down that far.

5. 1966: B-52 crashes into KC-135, four thermonuclear bombs are released over Spain

US Air Force nuclear H bomb radioactive contamination Spain
A US soldier looks through material found after a B-52 bomber collided with a tanker plane during aerial refueling, January 17, 1966.

On January 17, 1966 a B-52 was approaching a KC-135 for refueling when the bomber struck the tanker, igniting a fireball that killed the crew of the KC-135 and three men on the B-52.

The plane and its four B28 thermonuclear bombs fell near a small fishing village in Spain, Palomares. Three were recovered in the first 24 hours after the crash. One had landed safely while two had experienced detonations of their conventional explosives. The explosions ignited and scattered the plutonium in the missiles, contaminating two square kilometers.

The fourth bomb was sighted plunging into the ocean by a fisherman. Despite the eyewitness account, it took the Navy nearly 100 days to locate and retrieve the weapon.

6. 1968: B-52 crashes and a weapon is lost under the Arctic ice

Like the Palomares crash, the January 21 crash of a B-52 resulted in four B28 bombs being released. This time it was over Greenland and at least three of the bombs broke apart.

Investigators recovered most of these components before realizing they had found nothing of the fourth bomb. A blackened patch of ice was identified with parachute shroud lines frozen within it.

Recovery crew speculated that either the primary or secondary stage of the bomb began burning after the crash and melted the ice. The rest of the bomb then plunged through the Arctic water and sank. The weapon is still missing, presumed irrecoverable.

7. 1968: The sinking of the USS Scorpion

USS Scorpion
USS Scorpion.

The USS Scorpion, a nuclear-powered attack submarine, was declared presumed lost on June 5, 1968. The loss was especially troubling for the Navy since the boat had been following a Russian research group just before its disappearance.

At the time it was lost, the Scorpion was carrying two Mark 45 antisubmarine torpedoes (ASTOR). The wreckage would not be found until October 1968. The USS Scorpion is still on the floor of the Atlantic under 3,000 meters of water and the cause of the sinking remains unknown. The torpedo room appears to be intact with the two nuclear torpedoes in position, but the Navy can’t tell for sure.

Recovery of the torpedoes would be extremely challenging, so the Navy monitors radiation levels in the area instead. So far, there has been no signs of leakage from torpedoes or the reactor.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Top nuclear commander says he will push to put bombers back on alert if US gets rid of its ICBMs

B-52H Stratofortresses from the 2nd Bomb Wing line up on the runway as part of a readiness exercise at Barksdale Air Force Base, La.
B-52H bombers on the runway during a readiness exercise at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.

  • The head of STRATCOM said he would put bombers on alert if the ICBM leg of the triad goes away.
  • His comments come as some in Congress question the need for nuclear modernization spending.
  • The STRATCOM commander says he needs a modern ICBM force, not “leftovers of the Cold War.”
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

America’s top nuclear commander told lawmakers Tuesday that he would push to put US nuclear-capable bombers on alert if the military lost its intercontinental ballistic missiles.

As some lawmakers question the need to invest in nuclear modernization programs like the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, a replacement for the aging Minuteman III ICBM force, the head of US Strategic Command is arguing in favor of moving forward with the modernization plans and against cutting the ICBM force.

STRATCOM commander Adm. Charles Richard has argued previously that a failure to modernize and replace what the US has now is essentially disarmament in the face of a growing threat. Russia has its own nuclear triad, and China is developing a functional triad.

Speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Richard said that if the ICBM leg of the US nuclear triad were to be abandoned, then the bomber force would have to take its place as an always-ready nuclear deterrent.

“What is not often recognized is that we don’t have a triad day-to-day,” Richard said. “The bombers are not available to us. We chose to take them off alert as a type of peace dividend after the Cold War. Day-to-day, what you have is basically a dyad.”

The three legs of the US nuclear triad are the silo-based ICBMs, ballistic-missile submarines, and bombers, all of which are overseen by STRATCOM. All are options, but only the submarines and the ICBMs are ready to go at a moment’s notice.

Richard argued that the “basic design criteria in the triad is that you cannot allow a failure of any one leg of the triad to prevent you from being able to do everything the president has ordered you to do.”

“If you don’t have intercontinental ballistic missiles, we can’t meet that criteria,” the admiral said, adding, “You are completely dependent on the submarine leg, and I’ve already told the secretary of defense that under those conditions I would request to re-alert the bombers.”

Richard stressed Tuesday that without funding for programs like the GBSD – the research and development of which is expected to cost more than $85 billion, with a total life-cycle cost in the hundreds of billions – the US runs the risk of its ICBMs eventually “not working at all.” He said that he simply “cannot deter with the leftovers of the Cold War forever.”

Putting the strategic bomber force back on alert, meaning loaded and ready for an immediate nuclear strike should the order come, would be a return to practices that were common decades ago during the Cold War.

The idea of putting bombers back on alert has come up before, though not in the context of a potential loss of a leg of the nuclear triad.

In 2017, Defense One reported that the Air Force was preparing to put the nuclear bombers back on 24-hour alert. That change, however, was never actually made.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Biden is trying to derail China’s effort to build the world’s fastest supercomputer needed for unstoppable missiles

China hypersonic missiles
Military vehicles carry DF-17 missiles, a weapon armed with a hypersonic glide vehicle, during an October 1, 2019 military parade in Beijing.

  • The US added seven China supercomputer entities to its economic blacklist.
  • China is using supercomputers to speed up the development of hypersonic (unstoppable) missiles.
  • The US is in a global arms race with China and Russia to build the most advanced hypersonic missile.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Biden administration is taking steps to undermine China’s effort to build the world’s fastest supercomputer necessary for the development of advanced weapons – including nuclear weapons and hypersonic missiles.

Seven Chinese firms and government labs were placed under export controls by the Biden administration on Thursday due to their ties to China’s supercomputer development in relation to national security concerns. This means they will not be able to use technology that originated in the US without a Commerce Department license.

“These are parties that are acting in ways that are contrary to our national security interests,” a senior Commerce Department official told the Washington Post. “This is really about not having US items contribute to China’s advancement of its military capabilities.”

The firms and labs impacted include: Tianjin Phytium Information Technology (also known as Phytium), Shanghai High-Performance Integrated Circuit Design Center, Sunway Microelectronics, the National Supercomputing Center Jinan, the National Supercomputing Center Shenzhen, the National Supercomputing Center Wuxi, and the National Supercomputing Center Zhengzhou.

The supercomputer at China’s largest aerodynamics research complex, where hypersonics weapons research is underway, has used Phytium microprocessors, according to the Post. Phytium works with American software design companies, the Post said, and it will now have to get a license that’s difficult to obtain in order to keep doing business with the Chinese firm.

The US is in a global arms race with China and Russia to build hypersonic missiles, which are capable of traveling at least five times the speed of sound and designed to be virtually unstoppable. Hypersonic missiles are made to be both extraodinarily fast and maneuverable in order to evade all existing missile defense systems. Supercomputers able of rapidly performing complex calculations aid in the development of such advanced weapons.

China wants to build the first exascale computer, capable of a million trillion calculations per second, which would give it a major advantage in the race to build the most advanced hypersonic missile.

“Supercomputing capabilities are vital for the development of many – perhaps almost all – modern weapons and national security systems, such as nuclear weapons and hypersonic weapons,” Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said in a statement regarding the Biden administration’s economic blacklisting of the seven Chinese supercomputer entitites.

“The Department of Commerce will use the full extent of its authorities to prevent China from leveraging US technologies to support these destabilizing military modernization efforts,” Raimondo added.

President Joe Biden has made competing with China a top foreign policy priority, which has included an emphasis on investing in research and development to counter the China’s advancements in technology and infrastructure. During a speech on his $2 trillion infrastructure proposal on Thusday, Biden warned that China is “racing ahead” of the US.

“Do you think China is waiting around to invest in its digital infrastructure or research and development? I promise you, they are not waiting,” Biden said. “But they are counting on American democracy to be too slow, too limited, and too divided to keep up the pace.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

The Biden administration has been quietly trying to reach out to North Korea, but keeps getting ignored

biden kim jong un
A composite image of President Joe Biden and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

  • Biden’s administration has been trying to contact North Korea since mid-February, reports say.
  • But North Korea has not responded to any of those attempts to talk, a US official said.
  • Biden has not yet shared his policy on North Korea, which is still developing nuclear weapons.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

President Joe Biden’s administration has been trying to contact North Korea via several channels over the past month, but is receiving no response, Reuters, CNN, and the Associated Press reported, all citing a senior administration official.

“To reduce the risks of escalation, we reached out to the North Korean government through several channels starting in mid-February, including in New York,” the official said, according to CNN, referring to North Korea’s mission to the United Nations.

“To date, we have not received any response from Pyongyang,” the official said, per the reports.

The official added that the US and North Korea had had no “active dialogue” for over a year, “despite multiple attempts by the US to engage.”

Neither report gave details on what the attempts to contact North Korea entailed or what level of contact the Biden administration wants to have with North Korea. Insider has contacted the White House for comment.

However, the official told CNN that the administration is reviewing the US policy toward North Korea,” including evaluation of all available options to address the increasing threat posed by North Korea to its neighbors and the broader international community.”

Biden has not shared his North Korea policy since taking office on January 20.

Reports of the attempted US outreach comes as Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin travel to Japan and South Korea – North Korea’s neighbors – for four days of meetings. They plan to focus discussions on North Korea’s nuclear challenge as well as how to deal with China, according to the AP.

North Korea soldiers troops parade
North Korea celebrates the 75th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, in this image released by North Korea’s Central News Agency on October 10, 2020.

Biden’s predecessor, former President Donald Trump, broke with decades of American tradition to become the first sitting US president to meet North Korea’s leader.

Trump met with Kim Jong Un three times during his tenure: once in Singapore, once in Vietnam, and once at the Demilitarized Zone between South and North Korea. The last meeting was Trump’s idea, and his top advisors said it had caught them by surprise.

Trump’s meetings with Kim aimed to rein in North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program and denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.

Trump repeatedly touted his relationship with Kim as a foreign-policy win. But those meetings yielded few positive results, as North Korea retains its nuclear arsenal and continues development.

A confidential UN report seen by Reuters last month said that North Korea maintained and developed its nuclear and ballistic missile programs through 2020, despite international sanctions forbidding it. The report also said that North Korean hackers stole $316 million in 2020 alone to fund nuclear-weapons development.

Satellite imagery published by CNN early this month also showed that North Korea had been trying to hide a facility that US intelligence agencies believe is a store for nuclear weapons.

Read the original article on Business Insider